“Yes, the Queen my good sister may be assured to have a better neighbour of me being her cousin,” said Mary, widowed Queen of France, to the English ambassador before her return to Scotland.
Rivals from the off, the two queens had no chance of ever being good neighbours, but putting them side by side we can learn a lot about why one fell from power and the other held firm.
Had they not been kin, Elizabeth I might have been the mentor that the Queen of Scots needed. The so-called Virgin Queen had avoided marriage for fear of diluting her own status, while Mary’s dalliances made enemies of her nobles, saw her lose the throne of Scotland, and antagonise her cousin. Elizabeth I evaded the deadly paranoia of one Queen Mary – her own sister – but her cousin Mary would go on inspire that same fear of usurpation, and would lose her head for it. Elizabeth understood the minds of monarchs better than her cultured cousin, and could have coached her through these febrile forces. Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned at Stirling Castle, as was her father James V. Chief among Scotland’s royal residences, the ceiling of the King’s Presence Chamber was adorned with a sea of carved oak heads showing monarchs and mythical figures. Above are Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII and daughter of Henry VII, and her son James V. Through them Mary had a dangerous claim to the throne of England
Finally, Elizabeth I navigated the bitter sectarian landscape to restore a sense of status quo, while Mary never escaped the perception that she was a Catholic outsider, more French handmaiden than Queen of Scots. Perhaps in return Elizabeth I might have been given cause to ruminate on the costs of her success – the constant struggle against powerful and manipulative men in her court, the loss of her mother and estrangement from her family that made her sharp and cold, and her twilight years, facing death with no offspring to mourn her and to continue her legacy.
It’s an interesting thought exercise, but as All About
History’s staff writer Jessica Leggett explains on page 30, it simply wasn’t to be.
James Hoare Group Editor